A long while back, I was senior VP of operations of a large retailer that HAD to make massive changes in how things worked to avoid bankruptcy and we did some incredibly creative things, like using a large block of stock as collateral for a loan that we then paid off with a 401K-based employee stock ownership plan. Everyone became an owner and we used that attitude to implement dozens of innovations and improvements in most every process we had. Results were fantastic – taking the stock from 2 to over 30 in 3 years and reducing manager turnover five-fold, etc. Amazing what the pressures of survival can do to push accomplishment — nobody thought that we had real issues we could not overcome! We had The Vision! And we shared it with everyone…
30 years later, they are bankrupt because they failed to keep up with the changes around them, as customer needs shifted and the retail industry transmoglified into what it is today. COULD they have survived? I don’t know, but they should have found some way to use the people power and the infrastructure they had to become something better. Continuous improvement should be continuous… (And I think they lost that!)
I think that innovation is not a skill issue, at least skill is not the primary problem when it comes to a lack of innovation and improvement on a personal and organizational basis. The acid test for this comes from an old book on performance by Bob Mager, who asked from a simple framework:
“If you put a gun to their head and threatened to blow their brains out,
could they do it (accomplish the job or task)?”
THAT is the simple mental test for skill versus attitude. If they could but aren’t behaving in the way you want, that is simply “Bad Choices.” It is not an issue that requires training (or coaching), which is the solution for a problem of skill / knowledge.
Results are never predictable, since we all learn that, “shift happens” early in life. We can deal with probabilities, but certainty is not very common. So, we need to look at the perceived situation from the perspective of the person involved.
My take on all this is around RISK and the perceptions we have about action and failure. Whereas some people might see something as risky, others will not. Gene Calvert wrote a book called, “High Wire Management” many years ago that I thought was quite good on the issues and attitudes around risk. Simply put, much of it is perception. (I should probably write on some of the things that he thought and some of the simple tests he constructed.)
I did up a little animation called, “Godzilla Meets Bambi” that cuts to the chase and shares my perceptions about risk and innovation and leadership and organizational dynamics and personal histories and all that. You can see this at:
I think that ANY workgroup can be innovative and that any company can find hundreds of little ideas about things to change and improve. Continuous improvement can become continuopus if the people within the organization feel that change has personal positive impacts on them. There is definitely a WIIFM kind of thing that operates, balanced against perceived risk.
And it helps to make innovation fun. I use the Square Wheels cartoons to generate ideas and opportunities — the Round Wheels are already out there!
Let us share some simple and inexpensive Square Wheels tools with you that I will guarantee you will find effective and of high impact.
See our ideas about The Illusions of Management by clicking on this link.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
You can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Also published on Medium.